Antique semi-trucks bearing license plates from locales as far-flung as Maine and British Columbia could be found in a grassy area north of the TA Travel Center in Morris Thursday night.
Mack, Kenworth and Peterbilt were some of the top names on display as part of the first show associated with the American Truck Historical Society's cross-country convoy, which will travel about 2,300 miles from Morris to San Bernardino, Calif., via the old Route 66 starting today, Friday, Sept. 7.
Bill Johnson, the Kansas City, Mo.-based executive director of the American Truck Historical Society, organized the convoy. He said about 35 trucks, with about 70 participants, were signed up for the event.
"It was just something that we thought we'd try," Johnson said.
About every 200 miles, the convoy plans to stop at TA Travel Centers and Petro Stopping Centers for truck shows. Planned stops include Troy, Ill.; Joplin, Mo.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Gallup, N.M.; Kingman, Ariz.; and Barstow, Calif., before ending in San Bernardino, Calif., Sept. 15 for the annual Route 66 Rendezvous.
Inspiration for the convoy came from other similar cross-country cruise trips for other types of enthusiasts, from car groups to motorcyclists. He said Route 66 was picked for its strong tie to trucking.
"Route 66 in its early days meant a lot for freight distribution," he said. " ... So, it's just a way to bring attention that it wasn't just for cars and motorcycles and TV shows — it had a commercial side as well."
While some visitors wore ATHS paraphernalia, Johnson said the shows don't just bring in truckers — they appeal to a wider audience.
"It's people from different walks of life," he said. "With some people it's what their dad did or uncle did."
ATHS President John Vannatta, of Leonardtown, Md., was taking part in the event. He said he was glad to see the turnout and support of group members.
"I'm impressed with how many people are interested in doing this," he said, noting the costs for the trucks themselves, fuel and time off, for those who are working.
Yorkville resident Chris Johnson stopped by the ATHS trailer set up at the front of where the big rigs were lined up to pick up an organization hat. While he wasn't participating in the convoy, he is a member of the group and wanted to see the trucks.
"I took lots of pictures," he said of his trip around the participants' vehicles.
Chris Johnson said a large green 1949 Peterbilt 350 nicknamed "El Turbo," was among his favorites.
"That's just a classic," he said. "It represents an old era ... there's just so many great memories here."
Bruce Thompson, an ATHS member from Big Rock, Ill., enjoyed the selection as a spectator. He recalled hauling grain into Morris during his career, as well as taking Purina feed from Bloomington to northeastern Illinois. After he retired, he and his son got into the hobby of buying and restoring trucks — between the two of them, they have about 8 or 10.
"We just like 'em," he said. "It gets into your blood."